Book review: The Canary List by Sigmund Brouwer (WaterBrook Press, 2011)
Protected by the dark of night, Jaimie Piper runs. But is anywhere safe when Evil is hunting you? She’s just a twelve year-old girl, bumped around between foster homes and relegated to school classes for challenged kids, those lagging in their test scores or with behavioral issues. But her real problem is that she can sense something the other kids can’t—something dark. Something compelling her to run for her life.
All Crockett Grey wants is to mark the anniversary of his daughter’s death alone. But when his student Jaimie comes to him, terrified, her need for protection collides with his grief, and a tangled web of bizarre events sends them both spiraling toward destruction. Crockett’s one hope of getting his life back is to uncover the mysterious secrets of Jaimie’s past and her strange gift. It isn’t long before his discoveries lead him to a darker conspiracy, secrets guarded by the highest seat of power in the world—the Vatican.
So against my own better judgement I signed up to two sites that promised to give me all the free ebooks I can read, provided I give them a fair review in return. Last time I looked at those sites, I did a U-turn as soon as I realised they were all Christian-based. For some reason, I thought that these were new sites, that they had books that weren’t necessarily Christian-based. WRONG!! I mean, I even selected a book from the list that didn’t sound particularly that way inclined, nor did it have that word as a categorisation. Yeah, still wrong. Damn it.
Jaimie is a 12-year-old foster child who turns up on her teacher’s doorstep one night when he’s trying to get blind drunk to forget the anniversary of the death of his daughter. Jaimie is scared about evil following her, so Crockett Grey reluctantly takes her in, and gets Nanna, his elderly neighbour, involved as a chaperone. When they get to the girl’s foster home it’s ablaze and something tells Crockett that perhaps he won’t be taking her home tonight after all.
Jaimie spends the night at Nanna’s and in the morning, a guy pretending to be from social services shows up … only to disappear just before the real social services show up. And the next thing Crockett knows he’s framed as a paedophile, but somehow a very famous and expensive lawyer says she’s been hired to help him out. What follows is a Satanic conspiracy leading all the way back to the very inner sanctum of the Vatican.
Aside from a poorly formatted ebook, reading was actually better than expected. The chapters are really short, and while I’ve not read any of Dan Brown’s works, the whole Vatican involvement instantly made me think of The DaVinci Code, to the point where I expected it would turn out that Jaimie’s family tree would lead back to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Umm, not quite.
Fortunately, the novel never felt preachy, and I’ve read novels that on the outset didn’t say they’d be Christian and then turn out to bash you over the head with a Bible, which this never does. Sure, there is Christian faith involved – after all, it has priests and the Vatican in it – but if anything I’d say The Canary List is very critical of the Catholic church and how they do things. The subject of demonic possession, for instance, is never properly explained to be either complete bogus or something that really happens. There’s a man with a pet demon (not a spoiler, you meet him very early on), and he could just as easily be explained away as mentally ill. Maybe it’s deliberately ambiguous on that point.
Clearly, Brouwer has spent a lot of time researching the Vatican, how they deal with exorcism and how popes are elected and everything like that, so it feels genuine and authentic. It might be just something out of his imagination for all I know/care, but it sounds about right. Considering how much research has gone into that part, I’m really surprised he seems to have completely left out researching Satanism. Even with my very limited knowledge of that particular religious inclination, I still know that there’s a big difference between Satanism and devil worship. What is described in this book is devil worshipping, not Satanism, but it’s continually referred to as such. Such a shame. If the author had got his terminology straight, it would have been better. If you’re going to paint them all as devil-worshipping evil-doers, at least have the decency to paint the right people, you know?
Then there’s the bit where Jaimie is accosted by homeless people. The way it’s described is really incredibly offensive. So just because a person is homeless, they’re basically zombies who attack 12-year-olds? Seriously?!
Anyway, it’s a quick read, but I’m slightly disappointed with the characters. It starts off in Jaimie’s viewpoint, and then shifts to Crockett, with a few returns, but then, for the rest of the book, Jaimie’s perspective is completely dropped, and we just follow Crockett. Would have been better to keep Jaimie on, in my opinion. Then again, she’s perhaps not that interesting a character and is really only there to provide a talking point for the other characters.
The ending, which I won’t give away, had me scratching my head. You think everything’s sorted, and then all of that is turned on its head, and suddenly there’s an even deeper level of conspiracy? And maybe it’s not even a conspiracy but perhaps just a story to stop Crockett from blabbing? It gets too convoluted and I feel a bit cheated, to be honest. At least when M Night Shyamalan does his Big Twists, you’re left with a feeling of “ooh, that’s clever” and then you look back on the film and realise that the clues were actually there all the time, but you didn’t see them. (Except for The Village – saw that one coming a mile off!) Didn’t get that here. All I got was confusion and an “err, okaaay? And the reason for that waaaas?” At least it wasn’t overly soppy and/or “and then the sceptical Crockett finally discovered that all he had to do all along was to believe in Jesus our Lord and Saviour, The End.” Thank goodness.
So in the end, I’m a bit torn about this novel. It’s a fast-paced adventure (even though it feels like a Dan Brown rip-off), the conspiracy bits are intriguing of sorts, the language not difficult to follow, and it’s a quick and fairly entertaining read. Well-researched about the Vatican, the Catholic church and their demons (pun intended), but poorly researched in the non-Christian fields. And it just doesn’t have much of a conclusion or even character progression.
In the end, Crockett is still going to drown his sorrows in a bottle come same time next year, Jaimie is still going to be the same as she was when the book started (albeit in a happier home environment, if what she wants to happen actually does happen – the book doesn’t say), and the psychologist that binds the two together is still going to be a child psychologist, even if it’s with a slightly smaller chip on her shoulder. Brouwer could have had her and Crockett get together and live happily ever after, but the potential romance hanging in the air … well, it’s left hanging. What a lost opportunity.
But it doesn’t suck.
A hesitant 2.9 out of 5 bracelets.
I got this review copy at WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s free-ebooks-for-honest-blog-reviews initiative Blogging for Books. Many thanks! (UPDATE 2021: I think this may have been the only book I downloaded before I bailed. I’m the wrong market for Christian fiction.)